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The Best of Books

I've been invited to join an event to celebrate World Book Night in April.  It's an honour, but has also set the old Hall brain stumbling and stuttering into action, because some thinking is required.

This is why - I've been asked to talk about my favourite children's book, the book which has influenced me the most, and my guilty pleasure (of a reading nature, I assume, or hope.)

Good questions... and ones which set me ruminating on the place that books have had in my life.

In the tvdetective series, it's Claire who tends to read more than Dan, usually settling down at night with some crime fiction. A little ironic for a Detective Sergeant, and a fine one at that, but she enjoys comparing them with the reality of her job. Dan tends not to read, he's usually engaged with thinking through a case. 

Which raises the question about whether I read a great deal? Well, the answer is that I do, athough not as much as I used to.  These days, spare time being rare and all that, I tend to spend my evenings thinking of the next piece of writing or teaching I'm going to do and working on ideas.

But it's always a book before bed, even if just for a few minutes.  It helps me to relax into a sleeping mindset and I suppose is a habit I picked up in childhood.  I've always loved books and creating stories and characters in my mind.  Which, I suspect, is much of what has enticed me into becoming a writer.

Anyway, back to the World Book Night event, and my thinking on the works I shall talk about. I've already mostly decided - if you're like me, some books just stay with you and never leave - but I won't reveal them yet.  It'd be like telling you the end of one of the tvdetective stories before making you wade through the preceding hundred thousand words first!

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The art of interviewing

I was interviewed this week about the tvdetective books and my work as a journalist, and one particularly thoughtful and resonant question came up - what's the secret of carrying out an effective interview?

It certainly made me think, as I suppose it's something I do more or less instinctively now.

Well, part of the answer can be found in that original question.  It's a clever one, because it's open ended, gives scope for a whole range of responses, and it's short and sharp. I've seen far too many interviews where the questions are long and rambling, and it's entirely unclear what sort of answer may be required.

For me, the best questions are those which penetrate far deeper than a simple factual response. The old; who, what, where, why, when and how can be revealed by just about anyone working to a formula (see Kipling's "I Keep Six Honest Serving Men").  But it's the uncovering of a sight of the soul which is much more memorable.

In essence, it's the old "how do you feel?" question which is key, but hopefully expressed in a rather less clumsy and cliched way.

Interviewing is such a fundamental skill, as we all use it every day - to find out what's bothering a friend, what's required from work, whether we do really need to buy some gadget etc.  But because it's so commonplace, the elegance of the art can be overlooked.

Much of the reason for Dan's success as an amateur investigator in the tvdetective books is that he's a perceptive interviewer.  He has that great gift of being able to read people and get a sense of what it is they're really thinking, the story behind the story, if you like.  And that can take someone a very long way in life.

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Cash for questions, and to music

I must be in a whimsical mood.  That's one of the more curious titles for a bout of my ramblings.  Standby, I shall explain - or try to.

I haven't answered a reader's question for a while, so I thought I'd tackle a couple in one rant. 

The more substantive of the two is about money.  My correspondent perceptively notes that the tvdetective books contain few references to money and it's hardly used as a motive, when in the real world it's a very common one in crimes.

She goes on to ask why that may be? Which, as with so many questions from you educated and erudite bunch who somehow choose to read my books, is another very good one.  It's set me thinking, because it's another example of a part of myself coming out in the books which I was only vaguely, if at all, aware of.

Right, it comes down to this.  I don't much care about money. 

Now, I know that's a big statement and easy for me to make, as I do ok on the financial front. But even when I was younger, money never really bothered me.  Friends from college days set out to get rich, but I only ever wanted to do something passably interesting and worthwhile with my life.

(First aside here - please try not to start considering whether I've come anywhere close to achieving that!)

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The Spectre of Time

Having a birthday fall this month, I've been doing a little musing on the issue of time.

It's something which has always bothered me.  I often blame the childhood Saturdays of being terrified by Dr Who (Tom Baker was mine) for my fixation with time.  But be that as it may, it's never let me go.

It was a few years ago, perhaps just after I turned 40 that I started to feel truly mortal for the first time. I couldn't run as fast as I used to, stay up as late as I did, all that stuff which is nature's less than subtle way of hinting you're getting on.  Time was going about its insiduous work. And I liked the feeling not at all.

I'm not going to spend all this scribbling complaining about time - how pointless would that be?!  For an author, time can be useful. 

In the tvdetective books, some form of deadline always helps to up the drama and tension.  Without giving anything away, I've used a similar device in An Unnecessary Murder (the play wot I wrote) to add to the pace and plot.  It's a well trodden path by writers, after all.

When i was thinking of what I was going to write for this blog, I remembered just how much some of the great artists were bothered by time.  One of my favourite paintings is Dali's Persistence of Memory (the floppy clocks) which I find a beautiful but unsettling work.  And Eliot's Four Quartets is a favoured poem ("Footfalls echo in the memory...") Now that's writing!

Given that attachment to time, I wonder if it's unsurprising I chose the curious career of becoming a hack. Time is the eternal enemy there too, with deadlines always chasing you down.  For poor Dan in the books, it's even worse, with the twin deadlines of producing a report and the solving of a case to face.

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The Love Thing

As I'm in a frivolous mood, I thought I'd start this musing with an aside.

Wow!  How creative and crazy am I?!  Or yes, perhaps just daft.  But anyhow, the aside is - what a sweeping title for a blog.  I just hope the rest of the rant can live up to it...

So then, love.  Well, I was prompted by the passing of Valentine's Day to think about the issue of love in my scribblings.  And I suppose I've come to the conclusion I never really got the hang of it.

Even we bloodthirsty and nasty crime writers have to dabble a little in love in our books. It's such a fundamental part of life and this curious experience of being a human.  It can't be all murder and disaster, you've got to give your characters some leeway for other feelings, not to mention the poor reader.

But Dan, as many will know, is not good with the concept of relationships, to say the least.  Poor Claire - of whom I'm incredibly fond, as you may have noticed - suffers so much with the insecurities and doubts of the man she loves.  I sometimes wonder why she bothers, as indeed does she.

(Another aside - and yes, we will find out one day how that all comes out... or not.)

Anyway, I have been reassured by feedback from male readers of the tvdetective books that Dan is a fairly normal chap in regard of love.  And interestingly, there was a worry from my publishers, agents etc. that Dan being such an emotional idiot may alienate female readers.

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Acting

I love the old saying "it's not as easy as it looks". It's come to mind this morning, as I've certainly been bearing it out this week with my foray into acting.

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